My Favourite Underrated Agatha Christie Characters

When you think of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, you probably remember her most notable detective, the Belgium private sleuth Hercule Poirot.

If you’re a bit more of a fan of the undisputed Golden Age crime fiction genius, then you might also love her homely, elderly amateur detective and general busybody, Miss Marple.

While this pair characters are, indisputably, amazing, there’s a lot more to the Queen of Crime than just these two.  Christie was a prolific author, who wrote 66 full-length novels, as well as hundreds of short stories that were published in over a dozen collections and many newspapers and periodicals over the years.

Her work defined the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, and became a source of inspiration for writers and artists from around the world. Her work is popular everywhere, and it’s even been turned into animated series in Asia and major blockbusters in Hollywood.

While Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple novels are renowned around the world, and even the sight of a set of dark moustaches invokes an image of her famed detective, the Queen Of Crime also created many other memorable and intriguing characters.

Many of these characters aren’t given the attention and renown that they deserve. During the pandemic, I’ve been turning to Golden Age Crime Fiction and old favourite authors like Christie to bring me comfort, and I’ve found myself revisiting some of her amazing, yet underrated, characters.

That’s why I’ve put together this brief list of some of my favourite and, in my opinion, under appreciated, Christie characters. It’s not a definitive list, and I’m sure other fans of the author might not agree with all of my choices, but hopefully this list will inspire you to check out some Christie characters that you’ve not investigated before.

Parker Pyne: Parker Pyne is a sort of consultant life coach, who aids private individuals in everything from relationship issues through to suspicious deaths and almost everything in between. He advertises in the newspapers with short, cryptic ads that entice many individuals from all walks of life to reach out to him and embroil him in their mysteries and lives. The character appears in a selection of short stories that are really interesting. He also appears in a short story entitled Death On The Nile, which later became the name of one of Christie’s most famous Poirot novels. The story is an early incantation of the novel, but it’s very different in plot, with only a few small similarities. This progression shows how Christie used short stories as a creative springboard.

Ariadne Oliver: Appearing in several Poirot novels and a couple of standalone short stories, Mrs Ariadne Oliver was Christie’s literary self-portrait. The character is an eccentric author who created a Finnish detective, who she’s sick of- similar to Christie herself, who told many of her friends and fans that she was tired of writing about Hercule Poirot. Ariadne Oliver also adores apples, and is generally just a funny and witty character who’s great fun for readers, as well as being a useful foil for the detective. I love her TV portrayal in the ITV Poirot series and the character is definitely undervalued in the books. She’s wacky and funny, while also being intelligent and she has the ability to command the attention she deserves, rather than getting dismissed as so many similar characters are in books. She’s funny but also droll and makes acute observations about the human condition, which is again a refreshing change.

Luke Fitzwilliam: This ex-policeman character returns from India in the novel Murder Is Easy and meets an elderly lady on a train. She states that she’s going to report a serial killer to the police. Before she gets to Scotland Yard, she dies in mysterious circumstances. Unable to let the matter lie, Luke Fitzwilliam decides to investigate. The character isn’t a reoccurring one, but he does stick with me because he’s deeply compassionate and has an intuitive understanding of human nature. He’s also wrong many times, and is open and honest about his lack of knowledge, which is refreshing as many of Christie’s protagonists are very arrogant and proud of their abilities.

Superintendent Battle: While Inspector Japp, the character inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade is perhaps the best known of Christie’s policemen characters; Superintendent Battle is arguably the most interesting. Battle appears in five of Christie’s full-length novels, including standalone tales and Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. He also appears in several short stories. The character is related to several others who turn out to be instrumental in other Christie mysteries. He’s also a lot more in-depth and insightful than some other police characters, who simply act as an official counterpart to private detectives. Battle is intelligent in his own right, and brings a lot of information and useful ideas to the investigation, even if, ultimately, the protagonist detective is the one who eventually gets the glory of actually solving the case in the end. 

Miss Lemon: Hercule Poirot’s secretary who also appears in a selection of other short stories, including a couple of Parker Pyne tales is also a funny character in her own right. Christie’s description of the character, who is portrayed as having no imagination and being dedicated exclusively to the creation of the perfect filing system, is droll and witty. It’s also an interesting commentary on the way that many detective novels at the time portrayed working women as sexless, dull people who have no lives outside of their work. Miss Lemon has a sister, and the novel Hickory Dickory Dock contains funny passages about how Poriot doesn’t realise that the character would ever have a family and that she was born as a secretary with a desire to improve filing. The character is a funny commentary on the portrayal of women in literature and a useful soundboard for the eccentric Belgium sleuth.

Mr Satterthwaite: In The Mysterious Mr Quin short story collection, and a few other tales, Mr Satterthwaite and Harley Quin muse over a selection of unusual and seemingly unsolvable crimes. While Harley Quin might be the titular character in the series, he’s merely a plot device used to prompt his friend, Mr Satterthwaite, into uncovering the truth. While his name appears in the title of the book of short stories, Quin not a two-dimensional character, whereas the elderly and old-fashioned Mr Satterthwaite is a fully-fledged character with inventive ideas and witty repartee. He’s an avid and astute observer of the human race who uses his insight to help him to find out the truth in even the most unsettling and confusing cases. The character also appears in the Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy and the short story Dead Man’s Chest, which shows how useful a foil and observer he is.

Black Coffee Review: A Tantalising Thriller That Doesn’t Really Reflect Christie’s Prowess

As a bored, Golden Age crime fiction fan looking for something to keep me entertained during the lockdown, I’ve been turning to re-reading old favourites over recent months. Among my most beloved books is my collection of Hercule Poirot novels from the renowned Queen Of Crime, whose novels were the epitome of Golden Age crime fiction, Agatha Christie.

Re-reading old favourites offers many benefits, including giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll definitely enjoy the book. That’s why I’ve been devouring Agatha Christie novels during the pandemic. While I’m not averse to reading the odd Miss Marple novel, or even one of her lesser-known Tommy And Tuppence books, my favourite series of all out of Christie’s extensive back catalogue is the Poirot novels, which feature the pernickety Belgium private detective and his various accomplices as they solve devious crimes.

There are several of these books that I love, including the gripping Dead Man’s Folly and the twisted Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case, as well as her short story collections such as Poirot Investigates and Poriot’s Early Cases. However, I’ve also been searching for new Poirot stories that I haven’t read yet, but which I know will give me a taste of one of my favourite fictional sleuths and a new tale to sink my teeth into.

My search for new Poirot novels, beyond the original ones by Christie, which I’ve already read, and the ones by Sophie Hannah, which I’ve also checked out and reviewed, led me to Black Coffee. The book is an adaptation of a stage play script written by Christie herself, and turned into a novel by Charles Osborne, with the permission of Christie’s family and estate.

Osborne has also adapted a couple of other plays by Christie, so I was interested to check out this book. As mentioned, the original script for the play was written by the Queen Of Crime herself, but Osborne has bought it back to life by turning it into a novel, so readers like me can enjoy it even during the lockdown.

The play was slightly less popular than the renowned Mousetrap, also written by Christie, and which is the longest running show on the West End. However, Black Coffee was still incredibly popular, and it was turned into a 1931 film, as well as being turned into a novel.

Before I begin giving my opinions, I just want to say that I’ve never seen the film or play, or read Christie’s original play script. As such, I don’t know how much of it can be attributed to Osborne and how much was Christie herself. While I enjoyed reading Black Coffee, I did find it lacked certain elements that make for the perfect Poirot novel.

The book tells the story of Sir Claud Amory, a reclusive scientist living outside London in a large, luxurious home with his family, servants, secretary and a mysterious Italian friend of his daughter-in-law. Amory is developing a revolutionary formula for a new explosive that could completely change the world of war and the global power landscape.

Worried that the formula is about to be stolen by someone in his house, Amory hire Hercule Poirot to come down and take the formula back to London, where it can be given to the Government. On the evening when the detective, with his old friend Captain Hastings in tow, is due to arrive at the house, the formula is stolen from Amory’s safe.

The head of the household offers the thief one last chance to redeem themselves by switching off the lights and allowing them to anonymously return the formula. When the lights go out, the envelope in which the formula was is returned, but it later turns out to be empty. At the same time, Amory, who had just complained that his coffee was bitter, is found dead.

Poirot and Hastings arrive on the scene in time to find the dead man and offer their services to the family. The great detective hopes to find both the formula and the murderer, who he believes might be one and the same.

The plot is certainly thrilling and engaging, and the outcome is definitely unexpected and inventive. However, one of the key plot twists is taken directly from another Poirot novel; I won’t say which, so there are no spoilers. It’s simply a little disappointing that the main plot device is lifted from another book, although it is understandable that Christie would do this, as she probably believed that the play audience wouldn’t notice as they were watching rather than reading the tale.

Poirot himself is slightly off in Black Coffee. He’s a bit of a caricature of himself: like someone has heard of Poirot and his quirks, and then written a version of him without actually ever reading a Christie novel. Again, I understand that, for a play, the depiction needs to be more intense, as theatre goers will be less engaged and have less time with the character than book readers.

It’s very clearly an adaptation of a play: you can see it in the way the book is written. Osborne doesn’t do much by way of novelisation: while the book clearly isn’t written in the style of a play script, it isn’t quite a novel either. There is a very clear idea of space in the book, meaning readers can clearly see where each person is in the room and how they interact with one another. Also, the book is dialogue heavy, as you would expect a play script to be.

None of this detracts from Black Coffee’s appeal, but it does make it understandable that Poirot wouldn’t exactly be what I was expecting. However, he feels very different from what I wanted from the Belgium super sleuth. He’s not as sharp or perceptive in this as he is in most other novels and stories.

I’ve also got an issue with the book’s depiction of Captain Hastings. Hastings is a renowned detective sidekick, mostly because of the TV and film adaptations of the Poirot novels and the amazing portrayal of the character by actor and author Hugh Fraser. The character is not actually in that many of Christie’s books; in fact, he makes it into just 8 of the author’s 33 novels about the Belgium private eye. He also narrates many of the writer’s short stories featuring Poirot. In Black Coffee, Hastings isn’t the narrator; unlike he is in the novels written by Christie, which shows that Osborne didn’t take too much trouble to change the play script.

Hastings is another caricature of the character; Christie portrays him as a conceited and slightly uptight man who doesn’t have the wit or ingenuity of Poirot, but who is still deeply brave and loyal. He’s loyal to both his friend Poirot and his wife, but Black Coffee portrays him as flippant, deeply unintelligent and disloyal. In Christie’s books, you can see why Poirot likes to have Hastings around, but in this adaptation it’s difficult to see any benefit in this conceited man.

Even Inspector Japp, who turns up towards the end of the book, isn’t remotely similar to Christie’s original. In The Mysterious Affair At Styles, the first Poirot novel by the Queen Of Crime, the character is described as:

“One was a little, sharp, dark, ferret-faced man, the other was tall and fair.

I questioned Poirot mutely. He put his lips to my ear.

‘Do you know who that little man is?’

I shook my head.

‘That is Detective-Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard-Jimmy Japp.’” (Page 82).

The character is, again, very different in Osborne’s version of Black Coffee. The book portrays him as:

Japp, a bluff, hearty, middle-aged man with a thick-set figure and a ruddy complexion” (Page 132).

The two portrayals differ greatly. As you can see, Black Coffee does not continue the traditions of Christie, as several of her long running characters are different from their usual descriptions and actions. So, while the plot is gripping and intriguing, and the dialogue is fascinating, the book doesn’t really feel like a real Christie, or an actual Poirot story.

As I’ve said before about Kenneth Branagh’s film depiction of Poirot, just because you give your character the name doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the same. The version of Poirot adapted by Osborne isn’t the real Poirot; he might have the same fastidiousness and speak partially in French, but he’s not as delightfully diligent in his investigations, nor as characteristically witty as Christie’s original, despite the book being based on a play the Queen Of Crime wrote herself.

So, if you’re a Poirot fan who’s looking for a way to satisfy your craving for Christie, then you’re better off re-reading her novels. If you want to read something new, then I’d suggest checking out the amazing Poirot adaptations by Sophie Hannah, which are a much more realistic and relatable version of the great Belgium detective. Start with The Monogram Murdersand go from there; that’s a truly great series of adaptations that will give avid Christie fans something else to get their teeth into once they’ve finished re-reading all the original novels.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill Review: Poirot Returns With Another Captivating Case

When I heard that acclaimed thriller writer Sophie Hannah was releasing another novel brining Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot back to life, I was extremely excited. I’d enjoyed her previous forays into Golden Age crime fiction and brining back Christie’s iconic Belgium sleuth, so I was eager to see what she had in store for us this time around.

Poirot is an incredible character, and Hannah does him justice in her series of novels. She brings back the flair and ingenuity, while also showcasing the humility. Her books don’t just turn him into a caricature, like some film and TV portrayals. Instead, they showcase all of his talents in a way that the Queen Of Crime herself would be proud of.

This latest outing of Hannah’s reimagined Poirot, has him travelling on a Kingfisher Company coach to a private estate outside of London. He travels with the sidekick of Hannah’s creation, Inspector Catchpool, who’s a bit like a policeman version of Christie’s own character Captain Hastings. They’re going to visit Kingfisher Hill, a prestigious estate that houses deadly secrets.

Richard Devenport, whose family owns Little Key, a majestic house in the heart of the estate, has asked Poirot to visit his home to covertly survey his family and find out who killed his brother Frank. Richard’s fiancé, Helen Acton, has confessed to the crime, but Richard is convinced of her innocence. In his letter to Poirot he stipulates that he and Catchpool must pretend that they know nothing of the killing; instead, they are to imply that they want to learn more about a board game that Richard’s father and his business partner have created, called Peepers.

From the moment that the coach sets off, things get morbid, as they’re wont to do in a Golden Age style crime novel. A hysterical woman boards the coach, and almost automatically kicks up a fuss saying that if she doesn’t switch seats, then she’ll be murdered. Poirot changes seats with her, and is promptly faced with a confession of murder.

All of this occurs before the pair of protagonists even arrives at their destination. Once they get there, things quickly take a turn for the even stranger, with their deception becoming discovered. They are quickly called out and their identities are revealed. The woman who made her bizarre murder confession reveals them to be detectives, rather than the board game loving businessmen that they were pretending to be. She then offers up another confession, which throws the entire case into jeopardy.

Later, as the pair starts their work on this extraordinary case, a body is discovered at Little Key, raising even more questions for them to find the answers to. While investigating, they’re faced with strange confessions, unusual coincidences and much more. With no idea who to trust and where to turn, the detective and his policeman sidekick set out to uncover the truth about this utterly absurd series of events, and the equally unusual ones that follow later in the novel.

Hannah’s previous Poirot novels show her penchant for perplexing plots, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill carries on her legacy of taking Christie’s original flair for the extravagant and taking it one step further. The novel is a perfect combination of outlandish and believable.

Every chapter leads to more questions, but Hannah is skilled at keeping the reader interested and providing them with information in a way that doesn’t feel stilted. As a result, readers are kept intrigued throughout the novel despite the various plot twists and strange occurrences. There’s something new to learn about in each chapter and with every encounter that Poirot and Catchpool have, so that the reader is kept constantly guessing and unsure of what’s coming next.

In her characterisation, Hannah is spot-on, creating believable yet fascinating characters. Both her suspects and her secondary characters are two-dimensional, believable individuals who interest the reader and keep the suspense ramped up throughout the novel. The author demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature that Christie herself would have been proud of.

After all, the Queen of Crime was renowned for her sharp dialogue and incredible characterisation. In Sophie Hannah, she has an ideal modern-day counterpart to continue her legacy and bring Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous detective character, to a new generation of readers.

At the end of the day, that’s what reimagining a beloved character is all about; making them accessible to new readers. Hannah has achieved this goal and much more with her amazing Poirot novels, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is another spectacular example that is worth reading, whether you’re already a fan of Christie’s pernickety detective or he’s a completely new revelation to you.

Hannah’s novels are standalone pieces, but you’ll want to read more after you’ve finished your first, whether it’s this one or you start at the beginning with The Monogram Murders. Whatever your preference, you’ll be hooked once you sink your teeth in Hannah’s novels, and will soon find yourself desperate to check out Christie’s original stories.  

Christmas Christie: Controversy Is A New Tradition

BBC Agatha Christie Adaptation

As we edge swiftly towards the New Year, I am proud to present my thoughts on the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation and the controversy surrounding the changes that the writers made to the plot and the protagonist’s backstory. Apologies for the lack of posts over the past week, I’ve been off celebrating the holidays. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and I’m very pleased to be back writing after my awesome trip back to Dorset!

During my stay with my family we were all united in wanting to watch this year’s BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, which is unusual as normally we only agree to watch children’s films together (not because we’re weird, but because children’s films are favoured by both my parents. My father, who is in his late fifties, adores Toy Story and got over excited when Monster’s University came on, but can’t stand any of my ‘grizzly nonsense’).

Agreed on something for a change, we all settled down happily to watch The ABC Murders, the first of the BBC’s adaptations to feature one of Christie’s established and renowned detectives, in this case her beloved Belgium sleuth, Hercule Poirot. However, it quickly transpired that, unlike the twee gentility of the novel, this show was to have a grimy, dark undertone, with deceit and dastardly dealings at its heart.

Personally, I have long advocated that Poirot is becoming a little overdone in the modern literary and cinematic spaces, and should be left in peace; this opinion was overridden this year, however, by my adoration of the Christmas Christies, which bring the chance to check out one of my favourite author’s works in a new light. In the end, I rather liked Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of this Christie classic, and found it an enjoyable and memorable addition to the various adaptations that the corporation has produced during the Christmas period.

Thanks to their quality and exceptional source material, over the years watching an Agatha Christie adaptation has become a festive tradition over recent years, and if a BBC option is not available there is usually something, such as the excellent Crooked House we were treated to last year. I have come to view as a necessity at Christmas, rather like receiving a Terry’s Chocolate Orange or having a fight with pieces of wrapping paper!

My favourite by far was the utterly stupendous And Then There Were None in 2015, which was shown on the BBC and featured Charles Dance in what was, undoubtedly, the best performance of the entirety of his illustrious career. This adaptation was not without its detractors, and many believed it to be too dark, with the key issue many critics took was its deviation from its source material.

This is the case this year, and also in previous years. Although it missed the Christmas slot thanks to Ed Westwick’s sexual assault allegations, Ordeal by Innocence was another adaptation which proved divisive when the BBC aired it at the beginning of the year because the ending was completely changing from the original novel. In the case of The ABC Murders, the changes to the source text were less obvious and overriding, however they involved key elements of Poirot’s backstory, such as the idea that, instead of being a former policeman as he is in the novels, he is instead portrayed as a Priest, who fled to England when German soldiers burnt his church, in which a number of children were hiding, to the ground.

Despite this fundamental change, I personally feel that this is in no way disrespectful to the author, and it enhances rather than detracts from her legacy. These adaptations are allowing a whole new generation to experience Christie’s work, and although her novels were often twee and genteel, at their heart was the human experience and the cruel, vile side to humanity that lurks within even the most respectable and revered members of any community. Embracing this darker side to Christie’s work does not detract from it, and going a little off-piste to make your own mark on a book is nothing to be ashamed of, at least not in my book.

After all, the changes did not make the adaptation any less watchable, and John Malkovich’s performance as an ageing, withered Poirot was as mesmerizing as we all knew it was going to be the moment his casting was announced. Nursing a pain he keeps secret from even his closet friend, this version of the character is multi-dimensional and truly fascinating. Whilst he is not entirely canonical, he is certainly more so than many, such as Kenneth Branagh’s unique yet ultimately un-Poirotish portrayal, which sees the actor strutting about like a peacock rather than actually doing any thinking.

That being said, I am hopeful that Malkovich will resist the urge to return as Poirot. Let it remain in our memories as an excellent performance, as opposed to dragging it out until we hate it. Also, I rather like seeing new actors perform Christie each year, and whilst Malkovich and Rupert Grint, who starred as his reluctant link to officialdom as Inspector Crome, were both truly brilliant, it would be great to see someone new take on a role in 2019.

At the end of the day, if you’re a Christie fan that hasn’t already checked out the BBC’s version of The ABC Murders then please don’t let the negative reviews and publicity about the changes to the source material put you off. This is a magnificent reimagining of a classic Poirot story, and although it is not an exact replica of the novel, that’s for the best. The world would be awfully boring if filmmakers and TV producers were made to replicate novels word-for-word with no creative input of their own, and this version enhances the book and the Christie cannon far better than some imitations of other works, such as the latest Sherlock Holmes film, which has literally had viewers walking out of the cinema. Bring on next year’s BBC Christie is all I have to say!

The Mystery of Three Quarters Review: Another Great Adventure for Sophie Hannah’s Poirot

the mystery of three quaters

Poirot’s latest outing is a true representation of the Queen of Crime’s work- with a convoluted plot and a range of odd characters, the novel has all the classic hallmarks of a true Poirot mystery.

Sophie Hannah’s incarnation of Agatha Christie’s pristine, pedantic Belgium sleuth is an intriguing portrayal of human drama and emotion, although the limited number of murders is almost disappointing for fans of Christie and her vast body counts.

The mystery begins with an irate woman waiting for the detective outside his home. She accuses him of writing her a letter in which he claims to know that she has murdered a man named Barnabas Pandy- a man she claims not to know. Shortly afterwards, a man arrives with a similar story.

So begins an intriguing tale of misdirection and mayhem, all set against the usual backdrop of British institutions: the private boy’s school, the stuffy lawyer’s office and the vast country pile.

With four letters sent in total, Poirot delves into the mystery and soon discovers lies, deceits and many generally strange goings on. Hannah skilfully embodies many of Christie’s renowned tropes, however the reduced body count plays on my mind throughout the novel. Despite this, it is a well-done impersonation of the Queen of Crime, and readers will be impressed by how quickly they are hooked by this engaging mystery.

Twee, quaint and at times just a little absurd, The Mystery of Three Quarters gives readers everything they look for in a traditional Christie. Poirot’s on going fixation throughout the novel with a café owners’ ‘church window cake’, (which is basically a Battenberg cake under a different name) and its supposed relevance to his case is one of the lighter moments of the novel, which, like many of Christie’s own creations, often dresses up incredibly dark moments and calculated deceptions as whimsical and merely something to be observed.

It is in her characterisation that Hannah truly excels, creating a range of characters that are in equal parts pitiable and utterly vile. The majority of her suspects have few attributes to recommend them as even remotely decent human beings, and yet Hannah manages to make them vaguely sympathetic, giving the reader something to ponder alongside the mystery itself.

When all’s said and done, readers will be hard pressed to find any reason not to believe that The Mystery of Three Quarters was actually written by Christie, thanks to Hannah’s skilful characterisation and attention to detail. That’s all anyone really wants when reading a reincarnation of a character who original author is long dead, and the book not only succeeds in this area, but triumphs thanks to its ingenious plotting and exceptional characterisation.